The 2019-20 San Jose Sharks Confusion

2019-20 San Jose Sharks
GLENDALE, ARIZONA - JANUARY 14: Coaches (top L-R) Mike Ricci, head coach Bob Boughner and Roy Sommer of the San Jose Sharks watch from the bench during the third period of the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on January 14, 2020 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 6-3. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

In the two games following the All-Star break, the 2019-20 San Jose Sharks have made one thing clear; they are confused.

The season has gone badly for the Sharks, but the last people to throw in the towel on the season ought to be the team itself.

If the team wanted to approach the rest of the season after the All-Star break with a playoff chase mentality, I’d get it. But they didn’t.

If the team looked at the standings and decided the odds were too great against making a surge leading to playoff contention, I’d understand that, too. That’d be the time to adjust the plan and optimize the future.

The team has done neither.

2019-20 San Jose Sharks Confusion: Go For Playoffs Plan

If the Sharks wanted to go against the odds and attempt a playoff surge, they made a very odd choice. In their Wednesday game against the Vancouver Canucks, the second game after the All-Star break, the Sharks went with back-up netminder Martin Jones.

Jones’ already abysmal season continued in the loss to Vancouver. If the Sharks were trying to get a playoff spot, they’d play their top netminder, Aaron Dell. The Canucks match represented a ‘ four-point game’ because it offered the chance to get two points while denying their division rival two points.

One can’t ride a goalie for 30 straight games, it is necessary to use a back-up. If the Sharks felt the need to balance the workload while trying to contend for the playoffs, they’d use Jones in less important games. These would include games against Eastern Conference teams. The next game against an Eastern Conference team for the Sharks? Turns out, it is the very next game, coming against the Tampa Bay Lightning. If the playoffs are a consideration, use Dell in the games which matter more.

But the Sharks aren’t doing this.

If the Sharks were looking for a playoff surge, they’d play Dell against the Canucks and Jones against the Lightning. Or play Dell in both games. But there is simply no reason to play Jones against Vancouver unless the team has conceded the season.

2019-20 San Jose Sharks Confusion: Concede the Season Plan

If the Sharks decided the season was over, at least from a playoff perspective, they’d shift their focus. The NHL trade deadline is a bit over three weeks away. Between now and then, the focus needs to be on collecting the best assets they can collect. These are draft picks and prospects collected in trades. In order to get the most value in a trade, put the best possible light on the players who are on the trade block.

But Sharks aren’t doing this either.

I’ll go to the defensive pairings to explain this one.

One player who is almost certain to get moved is Tim Heed. Heed is among the top Sharks defenceman in a bunch of meaningful categories, including Corsi For (CF%) and five on five goal differential. Heed has a big shot, ideal for a power play. Indeed, in his one full AHL season, he was the league’s lone defenceman to average over a point-per-game.

What can a right-shot defenceman with good underlying numbers and an ability to contribute on the power-play fetch? It is a desirable combination. But Heed has found himself in the coach’s doghouse (both coaches) for most of the season and hasn’t played much in recent weeks. He hasn’t played in either of the post-All-Star games. And he doesn’t get much power-play time, even when he does play.

Properly optimized, Heed can generate a meaningful return in a trade. Instead, his non-use means they’ll land something more akin to the proverbial bag of used pucks. The natural partner for Heed is Marc-Edouard Vlasic. With this duo on the ice, the Sharks have outscored opponents 17-8 since the start of last season.

It goes further than this. Brent Burns is partnered with Brenden Dillon, even though Dillon is better with Erik Karlsson. Dillon is the trade piece likely to garner the biggest return. Putting him with the lesser partner puts Dillon in a lesser light. Since the start of last season, the Karlsson-Dillon duo has a CF% of nearly 60 percent and is plus-15 in five on five play.

2019-20 San Jose Sharks Confusion: Playing Pairs For Next Season

In addition to getting the right defenders out with the right partners for trade purposes, the team can also explore adjustments which will matter next season. Next season, Burns won’t be playing with Dillon. Because of this, it makes sense to partner Burns with Radim Simek or Mario Ferraro. These are the two players expected to battle it out for the spot opposite Burns over the longer term.

Alas, the Sharks choices do not reflect a team which is conceding the season since they are not optimizing the trade value of the players most likely to get moved, nor working on a new pairing which they could use next season.

2019-20 San Jose Sharks Confusion: Make a Choice

The Sharks have a choice, play for this season or play for future seasons. While I believe the three-game losing streak prior to the All-Star break ended any real chance at a playoff spot, I can understand if the team feels differently.

If the team believes it is still in a playoff chase, I’d expect to see decisions which reflect this belief.

If the team made the more reality-based choice – the remainder of the season is about future seasons – I’d expect decisions which reflect that belief.

There is no dilemma here and it is not a confusing situation. There is a choice which needs to be made.

But the Sharks’ recent choices reflect neither belief. This choice can not be justified. The San Jose Sharks are confused.

Zeke’s Notes

  • The bad news keeps rolling in for the Sharks. Tomas Hertl is done for the season after tearing multiple knee ligaments in the game versus the Canucks. There is no timeline for his return, but others generally take about a year before they look fully healthy. Radim Simek was the most recent Sharks player to deal with something similar, his injury occurring in March 2019. He doesn’t appear fully back to form yet. Hertl’s injury is especially disconcerting, he’s had knee issues ever since Dustin Brown’s highly questionable knee-on-knee hit resulted in torn right knee ligaments during Hertl’s rookie season. The current injury is in his left knee.
  • Many thought Hertl deserved the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player award, with five goals including the $1million winning goal in the Pacific’s 5-4 win in the final. He probably did deserve it along with the vehicle which came with it.
  • The history of Sharks and All-Star Game vehicles is an odd one. Logan Couture ‘won’ a car by being selected last when the All-Star teams were selected by captain’s picks.
  • John Scott was, in essence, a player without a team when he won his MVP award. It was clear the former Shark was closest to recent teammates Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns. Only one other Sharks player came close to winning an All-Star MVP. Many probably think Owen Nolan did win the award. Alas, despite a hat trick in the 1997 game in San Jose (hats did fly), ballots had already been submitted by the time he scored his third goal. Nonetheless, his called shot remains a signature moment in team history.

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